Bharti Airtel and Globacom have been revealed as two of the operators bidding for 9mobile – formerly Etisalat Nigeria.
Nigeria’s fourth largest operator 9mobile was rebranded earlier this year when Etisalat withdrew its backing after the unit defaulted on loan repayments. Regulatory intervention averted its collapse and the unit is now being auctioned, with Barclays Africa tasked with securing a sale by the end of the year.
Airtel and Globacom are rivals for second place in the Nigerian market, which is led by MTN. While both operators have seen success in the past year, MTN surpasses each of them by over 10 million connections. At the end of Q3 2017, MTN’s Nigerian unit had 50 million connections, while Globacom had 37 million and Airtel 35 million.
However, while 9mobile has seen its total subscriber numbers fall, it retains 17 million connections. Therefore, should either Airtel or Globacom acquire 9mobile, the additional subscribers would allow the winning bidder to overtake MTN.
Nonetheless, the bidding is not limited to Airtel and Globacom – private equity firm Helios Investment Partners has reportedly submitted a bid, while operator Smile and investment company Teleology Holdings have both expressed interest.
Barclays Africa is keen to find a buyer quickly, but the bank’s methods have attracted criticism from regulators.